Topic Archives: Time Use

Tracking the Changing Nature of Work: the Process Continues

The days of working the same 9-to-5 job for 40 years are a fading memory. Work today may involve multiple part-time jobs, working from home, obtaining work through a mobile device, and changing jobs frequently. The so-called “changing nature of work” is already here, and at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics we are trying to keep up with this new world.

One of our primary sources of information on Americans’ labor market activity is the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of households that provides a real-time snapshot of the share of the population who are employed and unemployed. These data are complemented by other BLS programs that focus on labor turnover, how Americans spend their time, details about local labor markets, and other topics.

But how well do these programs track nontraditional forms of employment, including short-term assignments, platform work, temporary help, and jobs so new and different we haven’t even named them yet? BLS has been working on these issues for many years. Let’s consider a few timely questions and see how BLS has responded.

Not all jobs are permanent. What do we know about jobs that are not expected to last?

Throughout its history, BLS has been exploring perceived changes in the nature of work. For example, an article in the October 1996 Monthly Labor Review described “…reports of corporate downsizing, production streamlining, and increasing use of temporary workers…” as raising questions about “…employers’ commitment to long term, stable employment relationships.” This article, and many others in the same issue, went on to introduce the first “Contingent Worker Supplement” (CWS) to the CPS. Supplements such as this are additional questions on specific topics generally asked once (as opposed to every month) of CPS households.

The CWS asks about jobs that are not expected to last, as well as alternative work arrangements, such as working as an independent contractor or through a temporary help agency. While not an ongoing BLS program, we received funding to conduct the supplement in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, and 2017. This allows us to track contingent work over time. In May 2017, there were 5.9 million contingent workers – those who did not expect their job to last. This represented 3.8 percent of the total employed. Twelve years earlier, a slightly higher percentage, 4.1 percent, did not expect their job to last.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

How many people are in different types of jobs, such as independent contractors?

The CWS also included questions to identify people who were in four types of alternative work arrangements:

  • Independent contractors
  • On-call workers
  • Temporary help agency workers
  • Workers provided by contract firms

The most prevalent of these arrangements was independent contractors. The 10.6 million independent contractors identified in May 2017 represented 6.9 percent of the total employed.

Percent of employed in alternative arrangements

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Does BLS have a measure of the “gig” economy?

BLS does not have a definition of the gig economy or gig workers. In fact, researchers use many different definitions when they talk about the gig economy. You may think of a gig as something your high school band played on a Saturday night. Or today you might consider your ride-share driver as performing a gig. Classifying workers as gig could get very confusing. For example:

  • A plumber or electrician may be on the payroll of a contracting company on the weekdays and obtain individual jobs through an app on the weekend. Gig worker?
  • A substitute teacher in one school district may obtain assignments and pay through traditional means, while the neighboring district assigns and pays workers through an app. Is one a gig worker?

Confused? So am I. To repeat, BLS does not have a definition of gig. Definitions developed by others may overlap with contingent workers and some of those in alternative employment arrangements in the CWS. Rather than try to develop such a definition, BLS chose to focus new questions narrowly, as you will see in the next section.

What about work obtained through an app?

In preparing for the 2017 CWS, and knowing the interest in work obtained through an app on a phone or other mobile device, BLS added four questions about short jobs or tasks that workers find through an app or website that both links them with customers and arranges payment. Separate questions asked about in-person work (such as driving for a ride-sharing company or providing dog-walking services) and online-only work (such as coding medical records). At BLS, we call these jobs “electronically mediated employment.”

While BLS conducted some testing of the questions on electronically mediated employment and vetted them with a variety of stakeholders, the results made it clear that people had difficulty understanding the questions. This effort resulted in many false-positive answers, such as a surgeon who said all of his work was obtained through an app. BLS used companion information, where available, to recode responses. To be completely transparent, BLS published both the original and recoded data, but we encourage data users to focus on the recoded information. These results indicate that 1 percent of the employed in May 2017 – about 1.6 million people – held electronically mediated jobs. A slightly higher number of workers (990,000) held in-person jobs than online-only jobs (701,000). Note that some workers indicated they had both types of jobs.

Compared with workers overall, electronically mediated workers were more likely to be ages 25 to 54 and less likely to be age 55 and older.

Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Maybe these “app” jobs are a second job. Do we know how many people hold more than one job?

We get information from the CPS each month on the number of workers who hold more than one job. In 2018, there were 7.8 million multiple jobholders – about 5.0 percent of total employment in 2018. That’s around the same share of employment it has been since 2010, but it was below the rates recorded during the mid-1990s, which were above 6.0 percent.

With all these new types of work, is the BLS monthly employment information missing anyone?

As noted, the CPS is an authoritative source of labor market information and has provided consistent data for over three-quarters of a century. But BLS is always looking to improve its measures, and there are other data sources that can supplement the CPS. For example, the American Time Use Survey obtains information about an individual’s activities during a 24-hour period. Among the categories that may be identified are “income-generating activities,” such as making pottery for pay, playing in a band for pay, and mowing lawns for pay.

Recently, BLS looked at people who were not counted as “employed” but who participate in income-generating activities. The research suggested that between 657,000 and 4.6 million people participated in income-generating activities but were not otherwise counted as employed in the survey. Given that total employment is around 155 million Americans, this undercount ranges from 0.4 to 3.0 percent of the total.

The study also examined the extent that employed people who did informal work in addition to a regular job might not be correctly classified as multiple jobholders. The research found that reclassifying workers misclassified as single jobholders would increase the number of multiple jobholders somewhere between 3.0 percent and 20.7 percent.

What more is BLS doing to improve labor market measures?

So, yes, BLS is doing a lot to improve our labor market measures, and the work continues. We know there is likely a small number of people who are not counted as employed yet perform income-generating activities. We know that definitions and concepts may need to be updated from time to time. We know that some terms, like “gig,” are not well defined and mean different things to different people. And we know it is not easy to define or identify electronically mediated employment.

Given all this, we continue to move forward. BLS has contracted with the Committee on National Statistics, part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to convene an expert panel to address these issues and provide recommendations to BLS. This work began in late 2018 with a report due in early 2020. BLS will review the recommendations and, resources permitting, develop plans to test any new concepts or questions.

There’s been interest in emerging types of work for many years. It’s also a moving target, as the “changing nature of work” keeps changing. BLS has provided gold-standard data on America’s labor force for many years and will continue to research and refine and improve.

Percent of employed in contingent jobs
Year Percent of employed
February 1995 4.9%
February 1997 4.4
February 1999 4.3
February 2001 4.0
February 2005 4.1
May 2017 3.8
Percent of employed in alternative arrangements
Alternative arrangement May 2017 February 2005 February 2001 February 1999 February 1997 February 1995
Independent contractors 6.9% 7.4% 6.4% 6.3% 6.7% 6.7%
On-call workers 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.5 1.6 1.7
Temporary help agency workers 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.9 1.0 1.0
Workers provided by contract firms 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.5
Percent distribution of workers by age, May 2017
Workers 16 to 24 years 25 to 54 years 55 years and older
Total employed 12.4% 64.4% 23.1%
Workers with electronically mediated jobs 10.3 71.2 18.5
Electronically mediated jobs, in-person work 7.4 72.5 20.1
Electronically mediated jobs, online work 15.7 69.6 14.8

The Griswold Family Vacation through the Lens of BLS Data

We have a guest blogger for this edition of Commissioner’s Corner. Joy Langston is a budget analyst at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. She enjoys watching classic movies when she’s not working.

As summer wraps up, let’s slow the transition into cooler weather to explore the dream American summer vacation of the Griswold family. America first met the Griswolds in the cult classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. We’ll relive their vacation through the lens of our gold-standard data. Clark Griswold, the easygoing and optimistic patriarch of the family, wants a fun vacation with his wife, Ellen, and adolescent son and daughter, Rusty and Audrey, before the kids grow up. For the past 15 years, Clark has worked as a food scientist creating “new and better food additives.” Data from the 2017 Employee Benefits Survey show that after 10 years of service, full-time workers like Clark receive on average 18 days of vacation, or almost 4 weeks.

Since he has the time, Clark decides to lead the family on a cross-country expedition from the Chicago suburbs to Walley World — “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park” in Southern California. Ellen agrees to the destination but wants to fly, as it will be less of a hassle. However, data from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys suggest driving may not be a bad idea. The average amount a household spent on vacations was $2,076 in 2017, with $684 for transportation costs, so flying from Chicago to Southern California was likely not in the Griswolds’ budget. To jumpstart this trip, Clark ordered the new “Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the Rally Fun Pack” from the local car dealership. He is scammed into buying the far less appealing, but now iconic, metallic pea, wood grained trimmed station wagon instead. Nevertheless, Clark is determined to make this the best family vacation ever.

Eventually, Ellen gives in to her husband’s enthusiasm and the Griswolds embark on their adventure, but not before stopping for their first tank of gas. You may remember that Clark struggled to find the gas tank, which was ridiculously located under the hood, by the engine, on the passenger’s side. The average household spent $109 in 2017 on gas for out-of-town trips and $1,797 for all uses. In July 2018, the national average price of gas was $2.93 per gallon, according to the Consumer Price Index. Although America has traded in station wagons for SUVs, neither are gas efficient and the Griswolds probably had to fuel up frequently on the 2,460-mile drive.

The family’s first misstep includes taking the wrong exit in St. Louis, Missouri, where they lose a couple of car parts while stopping to ask for directions in a questionable neighborhood. Despite this portrayal of St. Louis, the Occupational Employment Statistics data show this metro area had about 1.4 million jobs in 2017. About 16 percent of them were in office and administrative support occupations, with an average wage of $37,720 per year. Another 10 percent of jobs were in sales and related occupations, and 7 percent were in healthcare practitioners and technical occupations.

Driving through Kansas, they stop in Dodge City to experience life in the Wild West and order drinks in a saloon. According to the Current Employment Statistics survey, stops like these, including historical sites and other historical institutions, provide an average of 69,000 jobs from May to August nationwide.

The Griswolds make it to Coolidge, Kansas, where Ellen’s cousins live. The cousins pressure Clark and Ellen into dropping off cantankerous Aunt Edna — and her equally feisty dog — at her son’s home in Phoenix, Arizona. According to the American Time Use Survey Americans spend an average of 39 minutes a day — or about 237 hours a year — socializing and communicating in person. The survey also shows that Americans spend an average 4 minutes a day caring for and helping nonhousehold adults. The Griswold family gets a concentrated dose of this social activity by adding Aunt Edna to their road trip party.

For lunch, they stop off at rest stop to enjoy some homemade sandwiches. The average American household spent $56 in 2017 on food prepared for out-of-town trips, and $3,365 on food away from home (including fast food establishments and full service restaurants). The Griswolds’ enjoyment is cut short when they realize there is more to their soggy baloney cheese sandwiches than they bargained for. As it turns out, Aunt Edna’s spiteful dog used the picnic basket as a bathroom during the car ride. If you’re driving with a pet and want to avoid this mishap, Kansas has more than 4,600 restaurants and eating places to choose from, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages.

They spend the night in one of Colorado’s 98 campgrounds in three large, smelly tents. Despite their positive attitudes the next morning, the Griswolds meet with more misfortunes, including being pulled over by a state trooper, Ellen losing her bag with the credit cards, quarrels over their dwindling cash supply, and crashing in the Arizona desert while trying to find a shortcut to the Grand Canyon. After they are rescued and towed to a service station, Clark haggles with the local mechanic, who doubles as the local sheriff, and takes the rest of Clark’s cash. The average American household spent $954 on car maintenance and repairs in 2017, although costs usually are spread throughout the year and not on vacation misadventures.

By the time they drop off Aunt Edna in Phoenix, Ellen and the kids are begging Clark to buy plane tickets to go back home. However, Clark’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and he declares this road trip a pilgrimage.

When they finally arrive at Walley World, they discover it is closed for the next two weeks for repairs. Exasperated, Clark demands the security guard open the gates and let the family into the park. After a couple rollercoaster rides, the SWAT team and owner of the park, Roy Walley, arrive. As the police put handcuffs on Clark’s family, Clark begs Roy not to press charges. Clark persuades Roy not only to drop the charges but to allow the family to stay and enjoy all the rides! Americans do love their theme parks. There were nearly 1,000 theme parks in the United States in 2017, with 87 of them in California. These parks provided 185,000 jobs nationwide. This industry increased its labor productivity 13.7 percent in 2017, as theme parks reported higher output while hours worked by employees decreased.

Over the course of their trip, the Griswolds share a number of experiences, many of which either hit a little too close to home, or we hope to never experience for ourselves. After a long and tiresome trip, we hope Ellen finally has her way and Clark doesn’t force the Griswolds to spend another two weeks driving back to Chicago, which would deplete all his vacation days! This classic summer movie shows that BLS really does have a stat for that!

BLS Celebrates Read Across America Day

BLS celebrates the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day on March 2. Not by coincidence, it is also the birthday of the well-known author Dr. Seuss.

In the words of the famous author, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

BLS data show that reading is every bit as important as Dr. Seuss claimed. Only 2.5 percent of workers do not need to read or write on their job, according the Occupational Requirements Survey. However, the American Time Use Survey finds that only about 20 percent of people read for personal interest on an average day.

In honor of Dr. Seuss and Read Across America Day, how about taking some time to learn what else BLS data tell us about reading?

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” –Dr. Seuss

Consumers spent $15,268,000,000 on reading in 2016, according to the Consumer Expenditure Surveys. On average, households (technically referred to as consumer units) spent $118 on reading. So, of the Whos down in Whoville, which Whos are reading?

  • Households in the West region spent an average of $171 on reading. Those in the Midwest averaged $121, while households in the Northeast and South regions averaged just under $100.
  • Married couples without children spent an average of $174 on reading for their household; those with children spent $123. The households of single parents with children under 18 spent an average of $41.
  • Generationally, when the reference person was a baby boomer (born between 1946 and 1964), the household spent an average of $130 on reading. That compares with an average of $64 spent by households of millennials (those born in 1981 or later).

The Consumer Price Index gives us information about changes in the prices of the goods and services we buy. For example, prices for eggs (white or brown, but not green) increased 11.6 percent in 2017, and prices for ham were up 2.7 percent.

  • Prices for recreational books decreased 3.2 percent in 2017 and were 7.7 percent lower than in 2007.
  • Costs for newspapers and magazines declined 1.1 percent in 2017, but were 37.5 percent higher than a decade ago.
  • Prices for educational books and supplies decreased 1.8 percent in 2017, but were 58.3 percent higher than in 2007.

“I can read in red. I can read in blue. I can read in pickle color too.” –Dr. Seuss

According to the American Time Use Survey, the share of women who spent time reading for personal interest was larger than the share of men. In addition, women were slightly more likely than men to spend time reading to and with children in the household (excluding education- and health-related reading).

  • Seventeen percent of men and 21.8 percent of women spent time reading for personal interest on an average day. On the days they read, men and women spent an average of around an hour and a half participating in this activity.
  • On an average day, 13.4 percent of fathers and 18.5 percent of mothers spent time reading to and with their young children. On days they engaged in this activity, it accounted for about a half an hour of time for both fathers and mothers.

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” –Dr. Seuss

Do you want to spend more time with Thing 1 and Thing 2? How about a fox in socks or a cat in a hat? Library workers get to do all of that!

Librarians, library technicians and clerical library assistants spend all day with books. Librarians earn the highest wages of the three and also require higher levels of education and work experience, according to the Occupational Employment Statistics and the Occupational Requirements Surveys.

  • Nearly 50 percent of librarian jobs required a bachelor’s degree, and another 42 percent required a master’s degree in 2017. High school diplomas were more common for library techs (42 percent) and clerical library assistants (80 percent).
  • The average annual wage for librarians in 2016 was $59,870. Library technicians averaged $34,780 and clerical library assistants, $27,450.
  • Lifting books is a big job. On a scale from sedentary to very heavy, a medium level of strength was required for about 57 percent of librarian jobs and 71 percent of clerical library assistant jobs.

“There’s no limit to how much you’ll know, depending how far beyond zebra you go.” –Dr. Seuss

So, how will you celebrate Read Across America Day—in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse? Don’t forget the green eggs and ham! And remember, “You can find magic wherever you look, sit back and relax, all you need is a book.” –Dr. Seuss

What Does the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Tell Us about Football?

Football season is here. From pee-wee and youth sports, to high school and college rivalries, to professional matchups, it seems like there’s a game available almost every day of the week. You may wonder how football is related to economic statistics. Well, at BLS, we have a stat for that!

A recent Spotlight on Statistics by Bonnie Nichols, a research analyst at the National Endowment for the Arts, examines information from the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey on what households spent on entertainment, including sporting events.

  • In 2015, American consumers spent an average of $652 for admission to entertainment events, including movies, performing arts, and sporting events. The average spent on sporting events was about $43.
  • Americans ages 35–44 spent an average of $957 per year and those ages 45–54 spent an average of $879 per year.

The Spotlight also provides information from the National Endowment for the Arts on the percentage of adults who attend sporting events—about 30 percent in 2012. Attendance varied by education level. Nearly twice the share of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher (43.4 percent) attended a sporting event as did people with a high school diploma or less education (22.5 percent).

Another source of information about America’s football behavior is the American Time Use Survey, which measures how Americans spend their day. In 2016, about 22 percent of Americans spent some time during the day in sports, exercise, and recreation activities. That could include playing a game of touch football on the back lawn at Thanksgiving or attending a game to cheer on your favorite team.

Percent of the population age 15 and older engaged in sports, exercise, and recreation on an average day, 2016 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

More tidbits. The Consumer Price Index for October 2017 showed prices for admission to sporting events fell 1.7 percent over the year. Maybe it’s a good time to think about attending a game. On the other hand, the CPI also showed the price of beer bought away from home, such as at a stadium, rose 2.0 percent over the year.

I have to go get ready for the Thanksgiving Day games. Hope to see you on the gridiron.

Percent of the population age 15 and older engaged in sports, exercise, and recreation on an average day, 2016 annual averages
Age Percent

Total

21.7

15 to 24 years

28.9

25 to 34 years

21.6

35 to 44 years

20.2

45 to 54 years

19.1

55 to 64 years

22.0

65 years and older

18.8

How do we spend our time? Unpaid Eldercare

Time is a limited resource. We have only 24 hours in a day to do everything we want to do, along with everything we need to do. Caregivers may be especially pressed for time, spending time not only on their own needs, but on the needs of their children or aging family members or friends.

Today I want to focus on care for the elderly. Sixteen percent of the population, amounting to 41.3 million people, provide unpaid eldercare in the United States. About one-quarter of this population provides unpaid eldercare on a given day, spending an average of 2.8 hours providing eldercare. Think about it. That’s almost 3 hours of the day spent caring for someone else—and that doesn’t even count the hours some eldercare providers spend caring for children!

We know this because the American Time Use Survey includes questions about unpaid eldercare. Eldercare commonly refers to the informal or unpaid care that family members or friends provide aging adults, although it can sometimes include formal or paid care. The number of people age 65 and older is expected to rise dramatically over the next two decades. The number of years elderly people live with chronic conditions due to longer life spans is also expected to rise. Because of this, there is wide interest in understanding how much time Americans devote to unpaid eldercare and how it affects caregivers’ lives.

Hours spent providing eldercare by eldercare activity and sex of eldercare provider, on days they provided care, 2015–16

Editor’s note: A text-only version of the graphic is below.

Let’s take a closer look at eldercare providers using the 2015–16 American Time Use Survey data.

Who are they?

  • The majority (56 percent) of eldercare providers are women.
  • People ages 55 to 64 are the most likely to provide eldercare (24 percent), followed by those ages 45 to 54 (21 percent) and those ages 65 and older (19 percent).
  • Sixty-one percent of eldercare providers are employed.
  • Four million people are parents of children under the age of 18 and also provide care for their own parent. These people sometimes are called members of the “sandwich generation,” because they are between two generations that need care.

For whom are they providing care?

  • Thirty-nine percent of eldercare providers care for someone age 85 or older, while 14 percent provide care for someone ages 65 to 69.
  • Most eldercare providers ages 15 to 34 care for a grandparent. Providers ages 35 to 64 are more likely to care for a parent than are caregivers who are younger or older. Providers age 65 and older are more likely to care for a spouse.

How much time are they spending on eldercare?

  • Eldercare providers who care solely for someone with whom they live spend an average of 2.2 hours per day providing care.
  • On weekdays they provide care, employed caregivers spend an average of 1.8 hours doing so.
  • Among caregivers, women are more likely than men to provide eldercare on a given day. On days they provide eldercare, however, men and women spend about the same amount of time providing care.

What types of eldercare activities are they doing?

  • When we think of eldercare, it might be easy to think of just the physical care. However, eldercare may include nearly any activity. Providers care for their family and friends by helping with grooming, preparing meals, providing rides, and more. They also provide companionship or remain available to help when needed.
  • On days they provide care, 37 percent of eldercare providers prepare food, perform housework, or engage in other household tasks.
  • Eldercare providers spend an average of 1.0 hour in caregiving associated with leisure and sports on days they provide care. This includes socializing and communicating.

This is just a snapshot of the eldercare information available from the American Time Use Survey. Find out more about unpaid eldercare in the United States.

Hours spent providing eldercare by eldercare activity and sex of eldercare provider, on days they provided care, 2015–16
Caregiving activity Total Men Women
Total, activities reported as care done for those age 65 and older 2.84 2.77 2.88

Telephone calls, mail, and e-mail

0.03 0.03 0.02

Working and work-related activities

0.05 (1) 0.07

Other activities, not elsewhere classified

0.05 (1) 0.04

Organizational, civic, and religious activities

0.06 0.05 0.06

Purchasing goods and services

0.08 0.07 0.09

Traveling

0.17 0.17 0.17

Eating and drinking

0.19 0.23 0.17

Caring for and helping household members

0.28 0.24 0.31

Caring for and helping nonhousehold members

0.36 0.29 0.40

Household activities

0.54 0.52 0.56

Leisure and sports

1.03 1.10 0.99
 

(1) Estimate is not shown because it does not meet the American Time Use Survey publication standards.